Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel

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COMPOSERS: Debussy,Prokofiev,Ravel
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Flute Sonata
PERFORMER: Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Stephen Kovacevich (piano), Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano), Truls Mørk (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56982 2
Emmanuel Pahud has pulled it off again. Not only has he produced definitive accounts of Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata and Debussy’s Syrinx, he’s also proved himself to be a stylish chamber performer when accompanying the voice.

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Katarina Karnéus gives a ravishing account of Ravel’s Chansons madécasses, her mezzo rich, lingering and sensual in ‘Nahandove’ and ‘Il est doux’, and menacingly passionate in the anti-colonial ‘Aoua!’. Pahud stands out from the ensemble offering proactive but subtle support.

Prokofiev’s Sonata is the perfect piece for Pahud to exhibit his technical prowess and musical insight. Moods change irrationally, from sudden, screaming top-register outbursts to moments of lazy tenderness; he’s sarcastic in his jesting and jubilant in Prokofiev’s more straightforward, sunnier melodies. With a perspicacious Kovacevich playing at full throttle, the outcome can only be said to be the most exhilarating around.

James Galway, partnered in 1975 with Martha Argerich (BMG), sounds positively stodgy by comparison and certainly lacks Pahud’s vast tonal spectrum. Jennifer Stinton (Collins) offers a light, lyrical reading, but in the end the thrill is simply not as high-octane as Pahud’s.

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Grouping the Prokofiev with Ravel might seem odd, but Debussy forms the link: his Chansons de Bilitis, similar to the Ravel in their hoax poet source and erotic charm, inspired him to write Six épigraphes antiques, which Karl Lenski has here arranged for flute and piano as Bilitis. They work magnificently, mainly because Pahud manages to infiltrate a singer’s world, evoking the poems’ emotional intensity on a new communicative level. Kate Sherriff